Live Jazz: The 35th Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, Day #1

June 17, 2013

Review by Michael Katz

Photos by Bonnie Perkinson

Hollywood CA. One happy problem with an eight hour music fest that runs uninterrupted through the shifting temperatures of a near-summer’s day at the Hollywood Bowl is a lineup so strong you don’t want to leave your seat. That was the occasion on Saturday, Day 1 of the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival. It was a show that featured some bright new names in the jazz realm, a blur of world music and vocal skills, plus cameos and guest appearances from jazz legends and LA icons.

George Lopez

George Lopez

The most notable new face was comedian and actor George Lopez, who took over the emcee duties from Bill Cosby. Lopez smartly kept his patter brief and enthusiastic. Cosby, himself, never tried to upstage the music, and although his Cos of Good Music bands are dearly missed, their spirit was reflected in some adventurous booking, particularly a powerhouse mid-day lineup that had the sold-out house dancing in the aisles.

Some snarling traffic (not to mention my Park and Ride bus that broke down halfway between Westwood and the Bowl) resulted in a crowd filtering in through the first several acts. I entered to a pleasant set by percussionist Pedrito Martinez, with Ariacne Trujillo on keyboards and vocals. Their Latin rhythms set up a relaxed atmosphere as the crowd gathered and settled into party mode. But things got down to business immediately thereafter, with the appearance of Grace Kelly and her quintet.

Grace Kelly

Grace Kelly

The vivacious Kelly, only 21 years of age, has a half-dozen albums already to her credit. She plays mostly alto sax and doubles as a vocalist, excelling at both. Her alto tones are clean and driving, her own compositions melodic and well served by her lovely voice. Her band included one of LA’s premier young pianists, Josh Nelson, and an outstanding young trumpeter from Boston, Jason Palmer, who gave us some of the handful of great trumpet licks of the afternoon.

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods

It takes plenty of self-assurance for a young musician to invite Phil Woods on as a guest and then stand up to him, lick for lick, but Kelly was up to the task. They dueted on her composition “Man In A Hat,” (from the CD of the same name) written as an homage to Woods. His presence seemed to inspire Ms. Kelly, and I don’t think a blindfold test could have separated the two of them. They later romped through a medley of “How High The Moon” and “Ornithology” with equally fine results. Bassist Evan Gregor and drummer Bill Goodwin rounded out this terrific band. Grace Kelly, originally from Boston, has settled here in the LA area, which is great news for local jazz fans – if they can catch her on a break from an ambitious touring schedule.

Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter

I had caught the end of an electrifying set by Gregory Porter last September at the Monterey Jazz Festival (where he will be the opening act this year), so it was no surprise to see him light up the Playboy stage, even in the shank of the warm afternoon. Porter has it all. His deep, evocative voice has the authority of a Joe Williams; he has an engaging stage presence that can command even a crowd settling down for wine and hors d’oeuvres. Porter was in a romantic mood, with a ballad, “No Love Dying,” from a soon-to-be-released album. His band features a sparkplug in altoist Yosuke Sato, who whipped the crowd up with ascending riffs that arced into the pungent afternoon air like tracers. Porter continued on, imploring the audience to “Hold On,” while segueing into Oscar Brown Jr.’s lyrics to Nat Adderley’s “Work Song.” The title song to his new CD, Liquid Spirit, featured some terrific piano work by Chip Crawford. Porter’s closer, (as in the Monterey set), was “1960 What,” an ode to the unrest in sixties Detroit, sung with a gospel fervor that recalled Les McCann’s vocals from the seventies. Porter shone throughout. The LA native, by way of Bakersfield, is clearly on the cusp of something special.

Robert Glasper

Robert Glasper has been a ubiquitous presence lately, bridging the gap between jazz and pop with his straight ahead jazz trio and his “Robert Glasper Experiment,” which usually includes a guest from the hip hop world. On Saturday he featured Casey Benjamin on sax and vocoder, as well as the terrific jazz bassist Derrick Hodge and Mark Colenburg on drums. I’ll freely admit that I prefer the “jazz trio” – I put that in quotes because whatever Glasper does has a spirit of adventure to it. Glasper has a quick wit and engaging patter – he’s clearly the jazz performer most likely to host his own TV show. The Experiment is, no surprise, amped up and electronic, and went over fine with the crowd. But Glasper still found the occasion to invite Bowl favorite Dianne Reeves onstage. True to the Experimental spirit, she sang Oscar Brown Jr.’s lyrics to “Afro Blue,” circling on and off the beat, letting the audience find their way into the song.

Angelique Kidjo greets her 18,000 fans at the Playboy Jazz Festival

Angelique Kidjo greets her 18,000 fans at the Playboy Jazz Festival

It’s hard to imagine a more exciting performer for a music festival than Angelique Kidjo, from Benin. I’ve seen her twice, now – the first time anchoring the Sunday afternoon stage show at Monterey a few years ago. Her unique blend of African rhythms, elucidated in several languages, French, Yoruba and Swahili among them, is intoxicating. The pulsating rhythms and percussions, familiar to U. S. audiences through such artists as Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mumbazo, were highlighted by a terrific guitarist, Dominic James, and percussionists Magatte Sow and Yayo Serka, along with Itaiguara Brandao on bass.

As if that was not enough, Hugh Masekela joined the group for several numbers. Kidjo exudes warmth – even if you can’t decipher her lyrics, the spirit of inclusiveness permeates everything she does.

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

Anglelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela

Masekela’s flugelhorn remains deceptively simple, his tones clear and bold. His gravelly voice counteracted with Kidjo’s, and the two of them brought the crowd to their feet early and for the duration. Kidjo’s finale included promenading into the crowd and bringing back selected audience members onto the stage – I don’t know whether she does some magical on-the-spot scouting or just counts on divine inspiration, but it works wonderfully. Magatte Sow took center stage on his conga drum and provided the transformational spell, while the audience had a blast, onstage and off.

I’ve always thought that the Playboy Jazz Festival might benefit from a ten or fifteen minute break sometime during the show. It would give the audience a chance to wind down, break out the picnic baskets, talk to their friends without having to shout over the music. If there was ever a time to do it, it would have been after Angelique Kidjo’s set, which was impossible to follow. Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band would seem to be a perfect candidate, with the impressive sound of a 20 piece ensemble.

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

The Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band

They opened with two burners and a great solo on alto sax by Eric Marienthal, but the audience wasn’t ready to be engaged by what is basically a performance band. They finally found a little traction with Goodwin’s Grammy-winning arrangement of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Gershwin, after all this time, can still make people sit up and pay attention. After a brief appearance by “The Voice” vocalist Judith Hill, the band found some more familiar and appealing ground when they were joined by guitarist Lee Ritenour. Ritenour brought one of his most successful arrangements, his adaptation of Jobim’s “Stone Flower” into the Big Phat Band groove. His second number was a tight Goodwin arrangement of his tribute to the late Les Paul, simply titled L.P. That was the Big Phat Band and Ritenour at their best, weaving smart guitar licks into the larger sound. They kept the audience with them for the final tune, “Race To The Bridge,” with sax player Brian Scanlon and Andy Martin on trombone leading the way out.

Naturally 7 is a contemporary vocal band, sort of a capella meets hip hop, led by baritone Roger Thomas. This was their third Playboy appearance in four years, so they were warmly received throughout their set. The group combines elements of Doo-Wop, Hip Hop, and McFerriana. Their “vocal play” extends past the traditional vocal levels and instruments; it includes “DJ” and “Beat Box.” Whatever the simulation, it was pretty heavily amplified from the start, proving it is possible to have too much bass, even if you don’t have a bass. But it was a tight and lively show, emphasizing Doo – Wop in “Summer Breeze” and providing a playful narrative with “Englishman In New York.”

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

Naturally 7 with Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock joined them with one of his “keytars;” it seemed altogether fitting that he would jam with them on “Chameleon.” The opening bass line to that Herbie classic still galvanizes an audience, and Hancock continued with splashes of electronica throughout his appearance.  The group finished off with George Harrison’s Beatles classic, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” At that point you could look back pleasingly at the versatility of the entire Saturday lineup; in a matter of a few hours you could go from Gershwin to Jobim to Herbie Hancock to George Harrison and somehow fit it all under the jazz tent.

And there was still some Coltrane to come. Maybe not quite enough; Poncho Sanchez’s set was entitled Ole’ Coltrane, after the 1961 Coltrane album of the same name, though the set was more Ole’ than Coltrane. Not that there’s anything wrong with spending an hour with Poncho’s band, whatever the circumstances. Along with Sanchez’s formidable conga work, his group featured Musical Director Francisco Torres, doing double duty (he also soloed with the Big Phat Band.)

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band

But I was especially impressed by Ron Blake, who delivered some feisty trumpet cadenzas in the opening Latin numbers. We didn’t hear a lot of lead work from the staple jazz instruments over the day’s program, which was heavy on vocals and large ensembles, so it was a pleasure to hear Blake and then James Carter, who provided the Fest’s primary blast on the tenor sax.  Carter provided scorching work on a Latinized arrangement of Trane’s “Giant Steps,” and more laid back and melodic playing on Duke Ellington’s “The Feeling of Jazz,” which Ellington recorded with Coltrane. Poncho’s version had a tinge of the Mingus Latin feel to it, with some excellent supporting work by Torres. That was it, though, for the Coltrane material. Carter rejoined the band for a final number, Poncho’s always entertaining version of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man.”

Regrets to George Duke, whose final blasts into the night came after much of the crowd had left, thoroughly sated by such a pleasing mixture of jazz and funk, performed by ensembles large and small, and by players seasoned and refreshingly new. It was one of the best days at the Playboy Jazz Festival in recent memory and a great start for the two day event.

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To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

Read Michael Katz’s latest novel,

    Dearly Befuddled.

Picks of the Week: June 12 – 16

June 12, 2013

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- June 12. (Wed.)  Julian Coryell.  He’s received an impressive guitar-playing legacy from his father, Larry Coryell.  But Julian has thoroughly developed a creative style of his own.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

Cindy Lauper

Cindy Lauper

- June 13. (Thurs.)  Cindy Lauper.  30th Anniversary: She’s So Unusual Tour.  The inimitable Cindy Lauper celebrates the anniversary of her debut album.  She’ll be joined by the all-girl alternative rock band, Hunter ValentineGreek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

June 13. (Thurs.)  Upright Cabaret’s LEATHER & LACE: Music of Don Henley, Stevie Nicks & Neil Young!  An entertaining evening of some unusual songs.  Starring Yvette Cason, Jake Simpson and more.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (223) 466-2210.

- June 13. (Thurs.)  Annie Trousseau offers some impressive musical reminders of the legendary Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc. (310) 474-9400.

- June 14 – 16. (Fri. – Sun.)  Barry Manilow.  It may be Southern California, but Manilow revives his critically acclaimed “Barry Manilow on Broadway” concert, with all its hit songs, to Southland listeners.  The Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

- June 15 & 16. (Sat. & Sun.)  Playboy Jazz Festival.  The 35th installment in Playboy’s annual tribute to jazz arrives with its usual stellar line-up of talent.  Among the highlights on Sat.: Gregory Porter, Angelique Kidjo, Gordon Goodwin with Lee Ritenour, Naturally 7 with guest Herbie Hancock and George Duke.  On Sunday: the Brubeck Brothers, Taj Mahal, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Bob James and David Sanborn, India.Arie, Sheila E. and Trombone Shorty Hollywood Bowl.     (323) 850-2000.

San Francisco

- June 13. (Thurs.)  Enrico Rava Tribe.  Featuring Gianluca Petrella.   Veteran Italian jazz trumpeter Rava leads his band Tribe, a European collection of some of Europe’s finest young players, including trombonist Petrella.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

Washington D.C.

Patrice Rushen

Patrice Rushen

- June 13 – 16 (Thurs. – Sun.)  Buster William’s “Something More Quartet.”  And a pretty impressive quartet it is, with keyboardist Patrice Rushen, saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Cindy Blackman-SantanaBlues Alley.    (202) 337-4141.

New York City

- June 12 & 13. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Kenny Werner Coalition.  Pianist Werner, always in search of new ideas, plays with the versatile, adventurous aid of guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonists Miguel Zenon and Benjamin Koppel, and drummer Ferenc NemethThe Blue Note.   (212) 475-8592.

Ravi COltrane

Ravi COltrane

- June 12 – 15. (Wed. – Sat.)  Ravi Coltrane Quartet.  Saxophonist Coltrane is another second generation jazz artist.  And, like his father, the iconic John Coltrane, he is an imaginative, cutting edge performer.  He’s backed by  Adam Rogers, guitar, Dezron Douglas, bass, Johnathan Blake, drums.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080


- June 15 & 16. (Sat. & Sun.)  The Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The veteran New Orleans brass band keeps the incomparably high spirited New Orleans jazz tradition alive. Ronnie Scott’s.  +44 20 7439 0747.


Eddie Palmieri

Eddie Palmieri

- June 14. (Fri.)  Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra.  Pianist Palmieri, sometimes described as the Thelonious Monk of Latin jazz, is an irresistibly appealing jazz artist.  Paris New Morning.    +33 1 45 23 51 41

Live Music: 2012 in Review

January 1, 2013

By Michael Katz

Los Angeles, CA.  Looking back over the year’s worth of live performances I covered, mostly in jazz, is a bittersweet experience. There are surely enough terrific moments to fill a column, but in a city with L.A.’s diversity of talent, you can’t help wishing for more. Our club scene is struggling, with only Catalina Bar & Grill consistently booking major touring acts for extended stays. In the Valley, Vitello’s  has done a nice job of showcasing the best of our local talent and the occasional national stars, and downtown the Blue Whale has presented an intriguing mix of fresh talent and local mainstays. As for the Westside, the best news was that the light rail Metro Line finally made it to Culver City.

Now, if I could only get to Culver City.

On the concert side, the Hollywood Bowl brought lots of talent to its band shell on summer Wednesday evenings, mostly in combinations for retro theme nights, but its directors don’t  seem to trust anyone on the current scene to headline a show. UCLA Live (newly renamed the Center For The Art of Performance) presented an eclectic program that included the Mingus Dynasty septet, Bill Frisell and Hugh Masekela.

How anybody finds out about this music is another problem. (Unless, of course, you visit iRoM). Our local newspaper covers only a scant sampling of the jazz spectrum, while our jazz radio station has narrowed its daily programming range to the Old, the Dead and the Smooth.

But enough grumbling. Here’s a few of the superb performances that still resonated in my mind, months after the last note had died out.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater

I never saw a full set of Dee Dee Bridgewater, but when she stepped onto the stage of the Hollywood Bowl during the Ray Charles tribute last summer, she simply took over.  She began with “Hallelujah I Love Him So,” backed up by the great Houston Person and finished with “I Got News For You,” her ringing, soulful vocals augmented by Terence Blanchard and George Duke. A few months later I caught her in the closing set of the Monterey Jazz Festival with an all-star group that featured Christian McBride, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash and Chris Potter . She opened the set in a nimble duet with McBride on “Do What You Want To Do” and brought the crowd to pin drop silence with “Don’t Explain.” This group will be at the Valley Performing Art Center on January 23, so don’t miss them.

Arturo Sandoval

Arturo Sandoval

I saw a number of outstanding big bands this year, but the most memorable was led by Arturo Sandoval, in support of Dear Diz, his Grammy nominated CD and my favorite disc of the year. I caught them at The Federal, which hopefully will expand its presentation of jazz in 2013. Sandoval is clearly one of the world’s elite trumpet players, his tones piercing and his leadership swinging and joyful. His collection of mostly Dizzy Gillespie tunes featured sharp new arrangements, including a wonderful take on “Bee Bop” by Gordon Goodwin and a rollicking “Night In Tunisia.”

John Pisano

John Pisano

LA is the home of some of the world’s great guitarists, and I was lucky enough to catch a few of them live. At the top of the list is John Pisano’s Guitar Night. He keeps moving it farther away from my digs on the Westside, but I did manage to catch one of his last shows at Vitello’s with Anthony Wilson. Watching the two of them riff through two sets, testing their imaginations and dancing around familiar standards  reminded me that Guitar Night remains one of LA’s great treats.  I hereby resolve to make it out to Lucy’s 51 in Toluca Lake to see Pisano and friends in 2013.

Dori Caymmi

Dori Caymmi

Meanwhile, there were other great guitarists, including Dori Caymmi presenting a night of Brazilian music at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, in what we hope is a prequel to the new Jazz Bakery, still in the planning stages next door. For jazz deprived Westsiders, it cannot come soon enough.  Pat Metheny played two sets at the Monterey Jazz Festival, my favorite being a trio performance with bassist McBride and percussionist Jack DeJohnette.  And then there was Mimi Fox, who we don’t hear nearly enough of, doing a lovely Saturday matinee duet at MJF with flutist Ali Ryerson.

Mads Tolling

Mads Tolling

As usual there were some unheralded performers that caught my attention. Here’s to a couple of fiddlers: Sara Watkins and Mads Tolling. Watkins, late of Nickel Creek, shone during an LA performance of Prairie Home Companion, dueting with host Garrison Keillor on “Let It Be Me” as they strolled through the crowd, and later burning it up in a fiddle showdown with Richard Kriehn. Tolling, a veteran of the Turtle Island Quartet, fronted his own group on Sunday afternoon at the Garden Stage at MJF. Whether plucking in tandem with his guitarist or racing through a tribute to Jean Luc Ponty, Tolling was a revelation. His live CD, A Celebration of Jean Luc Ponty, was another of my favorite discs.

Monterey, as usual, had lots of highlights for me, including some wonderful trio work by pianist Mulgrew Miller, a rousing vocal performance by Gregory Porter and a Cal Tjader tribute led by pianist Michael Wolff, featuring Warren Wolf on vibes.

Luciana Souza

Luciana Souza

And finally, there was Luciana Souza, opening the season at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica, singing warm renditions from her two CDs that would later be nominated for Grammys, Duos 3 and The Book of Chet.

So what are my resolutions for 2013? For one, I resolve to catch Gustavo Dudamel leading the LA Phil at the Hollywood Bowl. For another, I resolve to brave the traffic (and the absence of chairs) at the Blue Whale and see what is happening downtown. And finally, it is long past time for me to get to New York and check out the great jazz scene there. Perhaps if we can avoid the fiscal cliff, I can get some federal funding for a trip East. Sort of a reverse Lewis and Clark Expedition culminating in a week or so in the Big Apple. I plan to get it tacked on to an appropriations bill. I’m sure no one will notice.

Happy New Year to all.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz click HERE.

Click HERE to visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, Katz of the Day.

Arturo Sandoval and John Pisano photos by Bob Barry

Live Jazz: A Christmas Card to the Sensational Sidemen of Paul McDonald’s Big Band

December 20, 2012

By Norton Wright

A jazzhead pal living in Europe just e-mailed me asking if he could find some big-band jazz in America when he comes vacationing this summer. Without hesitation I replied that lucky for us Los Angelinos, L.A. has become the nation’s showplace center for an abundance of jazz orchestras. Our treasures include Gerald Wilson, Gordon Goodwin, Johnny Mandel, Bill Holman, Poncho Sanchez, Tom Kubis, Bob Mintzer, Bill Cunliffe, Ron Jones, Johnny Vana, Pat Longo, et al. So it was no surprise a week or so ago that Vitello’s was ground zero for the explosive ensemble output of Paul McDonald’s Big Band playing both a 2pm and 5pm set.

In a show saluting the works of great jazz arrangers, this 13-piece orchestra was so swinging and exact in handling the array of challenging charts that it makes this writer question the accuracy of the sometimes-used phrase “sidemen.” With the Paul McDonald Big Band, “all-stars” would be a more appropriate description.

Every one of these band members delivered extraordinary performances in both ensemble work and soloing, and the result was the groovy, multi-layered jazz tapestry of sound and tempos that marks the excellence of a BIG band’s brass, woodwind, and percussion sections.

The Paul McDonald Big Band

The Paul McDonald Big Band

Kicking off the show, the multi-talented bandleader & pianist Paul McDonald led his troops through a rousing, 7-minute intro with his own up-tempo arrangements of “This Can’t Be Love” and “Sink or Swim”. Showmanship was at the fore as Eric “The Viking” Jorgensen, brandishing his Chinese-red trombone, rose and soloed with abandon, his challenge answered by a ferocious trumpet section headed by Jon Papenbrook and featuring  crackling-fast soloing by Jeff Jarvis (so reminiscent of the powerful exactitude of the late Lee Morgan!).  Then Barbara Loronga put us all away with a flugelhorn solo so mellow it sounded like a mix of  bourbon and honey.

Singer Bonnie Bowden, lissome in black glitter and tights, joined the set with her up-tempo “I Love Being Here With You.” Up next, the Nelson Riddle arrangement of the ballad, “Unforgettable,”featuring the blissed-out tenor sax soloing of Dean Roubicek, who later doubled on clarinet with his compatriots, first alto sax and flute Gary Herbig and second alto & flutist Darrell Winseman, for a romp through “Here Comes Santa Claus” anchored by baritone saxist, Ken Fisher. What a woodwind section!

One of the joys of Vitello’s is that there are so many jazz greats in the audiences, as well as on stage.  At this performance, legendary saxophonist Dave Pell was nodding knowing approval of the band’s sax section; Jack Redmond toe-tapped along to the band’s trombone leader Paul Young and the intense chops of the band’s bass trombonist Paul Rivera; and Roger Kellaway was so into the show’s groove that he joined Bowden on stage to accompany her on piano in his new composition, “A Place You Want to Call Home” with lyrics by Alan & Marilyn Bergman.

The McDonald Band continued on, lighting up arrangements by Tom Kubis (“Let It Snow”), Patrick Williams (“Cry Me A River” and  “Livin’ The Canary Life”), and John Clayton (“You Are So Beautiful”).  The charmingly casual Bowden then joined the audience to just enjoy the show, as Paul McDonald took his band through his own arrangement of “West Side Story” tunes driven by the band’s powerhouse drummer, Dave Tull, as at home in 4/4 as in the wiggy, mixed 6/8 & 3/4 meter of Leonard Bernstein’s semi-habanera, “I Like To Be In America”:

Finally, no big band can cook without a solid and inventive bass player, and it was young, acoustic bassist, Cooper Appelt, who provided a mainstay of rhythmic and harmonic support for his McDonald Big Band colleagues – and especially in his unison accompaniment of Bowden’s stratospheric scatting on Don Menza’s arrangement of “I Just Found Out About Love” and Sammy Nestico’s chart for “Just Friends.”

The set ended with the timely finale of a jazzy  arrangement by Dave Wolpe of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and the audience rose in standing ovation for this all-out, 80-minute show, not by sidemen, but by the best in the business. Los Angeles is fortunate to have such and wishes each and every one of them a Happy and Much Appreciated New Year!

To read more posts by Norton Wright, click HERE.

Live Jazz: Mike Katz’s Monterey Jazz Festival Top Ten

September 13, 2012

By Mike Katz

Every year the Monterey Jazz Festival program features a Top Ten list from Artistic Director Tim Jackson, and I always think that’s interesting, but what does he tell everybody else? And how can he not mention (your favorite here). So I figured I’d take a stab at my own Top Ten, but with a slightly different angle, for this year’s Festival, which begins Fri. Sept. 21.  Here in LA we get to see a good deal of the major touring names (Trombone Shorty, Esperanza Spalding, Eddie Palmieri) as well as others who live or have lived here (Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, Tierney Sutton, Gerald Clayton, among others.)

I always look forward to new configurations of talent, and introductions to new players, as well as a few familiar names that we don’t see too often on the Left Coast. So here’s my list, in order of appearance, with a special effort to highlight most of the festival’s venues.

1. Mulgrew Miller,  Coffee House.  8, 9:30, 11, Friday night.   Every year I promise myself I will get to see at least one set in the cozy Coffee House, which features small groups playing before appreciatively quiet audiences. What better way to start off  the festival than with Mulgrew Miller, whose bright, swinging touch belies his impressively large physique.

Jack DeJohnette

2. Jack DeJohnette, Dizzy’s Den. 8:30 Friday night; Arena w/ Pat Metheny and Christian McBride, 9:20 Sat. night; Dizzy’s Den, Sunday night, 7:30 with Bill Frisell. The Festival’s Showcase artist, DeJohnette’s multi-faceted talents are reflected in these three different settings. I don’t know yet who the personnel will be in the Friday night  group but it is bound to be interesting; the Metheny trio can’t help but be great and I hope to catch at least part of the duet with guitarist Frisell on Sunday.

3. Gregoire Maret Quartet, Night Club, 9:30 Friday night. When you think about the harmonica in jazz, Toots Thielemans comes to mind, and then there is a long pause. Maret, from Geneva, Switzerland, has been getting some attention as Toots’ heir apparent, so here’s a chance to check him out.

Ali Ryerson and Mimi Fox

4. Ali Ryerson-Mimi Fox Duo, Night Club, 2:30 Saturday Afternoon. Take a break from the raucous atmosphere at the Arena and check out flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Mimi Fox, both of them notable for exquisite phrasing. You’ll still have time to get back for most of Trombone Shorty’s set.

5. Tribute To Cal Tjader, Dizzy’s Den, 8  Saturday night.  Pianist Michael Wolff, who played with Tjader in the ‘70s, has assembled an all-star group that features Warren Wolf on vibes, along with Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Robb Fisher and Vince Lateano.

Bill Frisell


6. Bill Frisell Big Sur Quintet, Arena, 8  Saturday night.  Night Club, 10:30 p.m. I know, you can’t be two places at once. Frisell’s commissioned piece promises to be a highlight. Visit the special Cloning Tent right next to the funnel cake stand.7.

Pat Metheny


7. Pat Metheny, Arena, 9:20 Saturday night (See above) and 7 Sunday night. Unity Band with Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, Ben Williams. Two arena appearances for Metheny. The trio appeals to me the most, but you can’t lose with either one.


8. Tony Bennett, Arena, 10:50 Saturday night. Need we say more?

9. Next Generation Band, Arena, 1:10 Sunday Afternoon. Yes, you have tickets for Esperanza Spalding. Don’t think it’s cool to skip the opening student groups. Last year’s NGB knocked everybody out. Artist-in-Residence trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire sits in.

10.  Mads Tolling Quartet. Garden Stage, 4 Sunday afternoon. The mid-afternoon sets at the Garden Stage are always great fun. Turtle Island Quartet violinist Tolling fronts his own group.

Dee Dee Bridgewater

11.  MJF ALL-STARS w/ Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chris Potter. Bennie Green, Christian McBride, Ambrose Akinmusire, Lewis Nash, Arena, 9  Sunday night and Dizzy’s Den, 11 Saturday Night. This super group closes out the festival at the Arena, but you might have just as much fun seeing them Saturday night at Dizzy’s Den.

Okay, that’s 11. And I didn’t even mention Judy Roberts and Greg Fishman at the Courtyard Stage throughout the Festival.

But…but…what about…Melody Gardot, Christian Scott, Robert Randolph?….excuse me, I’ve got to run. See ya next week.

To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

Live Jazz: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band at Vitello’s

June 10, 2012

By Michael Katz

If  you have never seen Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band in a Small, Close Room, it is an experience I would heartily recommend. For sheer excitement, it is about the closest thing to actually being in the band – if you are a musician or just an air saxophone player, you will be tempted to stand up and take a solo.  Friday night, the eighteen musicians occupied every nook and cranny of the stage at Vitello’s. The guitarist seemed to be sitting in your  lap. The conga player was wedged between Goodwin’s piano and the back wall — his rhythms floating unseen from the direction of Laurel Canyon. The baritone sax player was perched just in front of the curtained stage entrance; one step backward and he could have been the Wizard of Oz. The drummer, Bernie Dresel, sat smack in the middle of  all this, cool and hip in black-rimmed glasses, looking like Steve Allen reincarnated in an argyle sweater.

If you are an acoustic purist, this may not be for you. There are just too many sounds colliding and reverberating between the low ceiling and around the walls. But that is hardly the point. This is a musical Funhouse. It’s a chance to get up close to precision section playing and scorching solos, not to mention a few young players who have infiltrated the roster of Goodwin’s veteran group of LA session men.

Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band

Goodwin, who handles the arrangements and plays mostly piano now,  started this band a decade ago. He’s developed a rousing, hard swinging sound that borrows liberally from all points of the American jazz scene – over two sets Friday night there were nods to Benny Goodman, George Gershwin, Diz, Herbie and even Elmer Fudd. It’s all done with panache, humor and Goodwin’s trademark in-the-pocket groove, dominated by a front line of saxophones that doubles impressively on flutes and clarinets.

The first set featured tunes from the BPB’s most recent album, That’s How We Roll, opening up with the title cut. A typical foot-stomping Goodwin piece, it featured Francisco Torres, best known for anchoring the trombone section of the Poncho Sanchez Band, and Willie Murillo,  the lead trumpet soloist most of the night. “Howdiz Songo” followed with a lilting piano riff by Goodwin,  Joey De Leon’s congas bubbling up from behind. A couple of newer names made their presence felt: Katisse Buckingham is a fine young saxophonist who doubled on flute and Andrew Synoweic showed his versatility on guitar.

Goodwin won a 2012 Grammy for his shape-shifting arrangement of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Another young reed player, Kevin Garren, opened it up with a stirring clarinet solo. The tempo shifted to an aggressive swing, featuring Bob Summers on trumpet, then laid back for a Dorsey-like trombone burst from Charlie Morillas. Finally Murillo took over on trumpet as the tempo assumed a rollicking strip tease tone, perhaps not exactly what Gershwin had in mind, but who’s to say?

Singer Becky Martin, who I’d heard with Arturo Sandoval last month, stepped in for two numbers. It is especially hard belting out a tune over an 18 piece band in such a small room, but Martin carried an up-tempo version (was there anything else?) of “Cheek To Cheek” and followed with a persuasive interpretation of Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night In Tunisia,” augmented by Murillo’s homage to Diz.

There were only two ballads over the evening, placed in penultimate  positions of each set. Guitarist Synowiec had a nice casual feel to “Everlasting” in the first set with Goodwin accompanying him gracefully on the piano. The same spot in the second set brought Goodwin back on tenor sax with a samba-like rendition of “I Remember,” from the BPB’s first album. Bob Summers delivered some soulful work on the flugelhorn   with harmonic support from the woodwinds, alternating from an all flute background to a medley of saxophones. And speaking of stellar section work, the trombones, who had carried less solo work most of the night, performed beautifully in “It’s Not Polite To Point” with Jason Thor and Craig Gosnell joining Torres and Morillas in a perfect blending of the four horns.

Mostly, though, it was the rip-roaring numbers that had the capacity crowd on their feet. There was “Hunting Wabbits III,” the third variation of Goodwin’s salute to the Warner Brothers cartoon themes. “Sing Sang Sung,” which opened up the second set, is based on Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” and featured more great clarinet work by Kevin Garren. Lead tenor man Brian Scanlon, after losing a pad on his horn, borrowed Goodwin’s and blew through “Rippin’ N Runnin’ from the new album.  By the time the Big Phat Band finished off the night with “The Jazz Police,”  highlighted by percussionist Joey DeLeon and drummer Bernie Dresel tearing things up, the audience and band alike were on the edge of exhaustion.

Which is the way it ought to be. The next time I see this band it will be opening the main stage show at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September. I’m sure it will be great, but I won’t be sitting two feet from the band, trading eights in my mind with the horn section.

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To read more iRoM  reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

Picks of the Week: June 5 – 10

June 5, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

- June 5. (Tues.)  “And Then She Wrote.”  Peter Marshall, Carol Welsman, Calabria Foti.  Five time Emmy Award-winning Marshall (Yes, he sings, too) is joined by the lovely singer/instrumentalists Welsman and Foti in an evening of great standards written by women. Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

- June 5. (Tues.)  Corliss Dale and Lou Forestieri.  Pianist/arranger  Forestieri’s impressive resume reaches from Stanley Clarke to Mel Torme and beyond.  He and his singing wife Dale have released a pair of impressive albums of standards; Fascinating Rhythms and Crazy Rhythm.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.     (310) 474-9400.

- June 6. (Wed.)  The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses.  The music from one of the most popular video games of all time is performed by a full orchestra.  The program features music based on story lines from “Ocarina of Time,” “The Wind Waker,” “Twilight Princess” and “A Link to the Past.” The Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

Fabiana Passoni

- June 7. (Thurs.) Fabiana Passoni.  Her sultry vocals have earned Passoni the title of Best Brazilian Singer Living in the U.S. from the Brazilian International Press.  Despite the difficult interruptions of a three year battle with cancer, her musical journey has continued to discover new areas of creativity.  She’ll be backed by a ten piece band featuring the stellar presence of, among others, pianist Bill Cantos and guitarist Kleber Jorge. Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.    (310) 474-9400.  Also at Yoshi’s San Francisco on Sun. (See below.)

- June 7 – 9. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Freddy Cole Quartet.  If the voice sounds familiar, don’t be surprised.  He’s Nat Cole’s younger brother, and he’s fashioned those memorable vocal timbres into an appealing style all his own.  At a time when engaging male jazz singers are in short supply, don’t miss the chance to hear Cole in action.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

- June 7 – 9. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Peter Cetera.  If the name doesn’t instantly ring a bell, think “Chicago.”  And, no, not the city, the great rock group of the ‘70s that rode to fame on Cetera’s memorable vocals.  Segerstrom Center for the Arts.     (714) 556-2787.

- June 8. (Fri.) Primus.  For nearly three decades Primus has been stretching the envelope in the style of Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd.  Also on the bill, Fishbone, a high visibility presence in L.A.’s alternative rock scene since the ‘80s.  Greek Theatre.   (323) 665-5857.

Ernie Watts

- June 8. (Fri.)  Ernie Watts.  Grammy-winner Watts’ versatile saxophone playing has been heard over the past four decades on more than 500 recordings in the company of artists reaching from Cannonball Adderley to Frank Zappa.  And he’s still going strong.  LACMA.    (323) 857-6000.

- June 8. (Fri.) Big Phat BandGordon Goodwin’s collection of L.A. all-stars perform selections from his always-swinging book of originals and re-invented standards.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

- June 10. (Sun.)  Los Angeles Master Chorale. Tribute to Gorecki.  The superb voices of the LAMC close the season with a trio of sonically mesmerizing works by the great Polish composer, as well as the Brahms motet for chorus, Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein rein Herz.  Disney Hall.   (323) 850-2000.

- June 10. (Sun.)  Chickenfoot.  All-star rock group Chickenfoot – Joe Satriani, Kenny Aronoff, Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar – arrive in support of their latest album, Chickenfoot III.  Also on the bill – Black Stone Cherry. Greek Theatre.  (323) 665-5857.

San Francisco

Rick Braun

- June 8 – 10.  (Fri. – Sun.)  Rick Braun. Trumpeter/vocalist Braun, following in the Chet Baker footsteps, combining his warm and amiable vocals with an appealingly melodic trumpet style.  Yoshi’s Oakland.    (510) 238-9200.

June 10. (Sun.)   Fabiana Passoni.  Brazilian singer Passoni makes her second California appearance this week.  See above L.A. entry for more details.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.    (415) 655-5600.

Washington D.C.

- June 8 – 10.  (Fri. – Sun.)  Kenny Garrett. Cutting edge alto saxophonist Garrett’s early roots trace to a five year stint with Miles Davis’ electric bands.  But he’s traveled his own path since then, fully apparent in his latest album, Seeds From the Underground.  Blues Alley.  (202) 337-4141.

New York

Karrin Allyson

- June 5 – 9. (Tues. – Sat.)  Karrin Allyson. Twenty years after her debut album, I Didn’t Know About You, was released, Allyson continues to set standards for what great jazz singing can and should be – via her superb musicality, rich sense of swing and her utterly engrossing storytelling abilities.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

- June 5 – 10. (Tues. – Sun.)  Renee Rosnes Quartet.  Pianist Rosnes, always a jazz adventurer, checks out fascinating territories with the world class companionship of Steve Nelson, vibes, Peter Washington, bass and Lewis Nash, drums.  Village Vanguard.   (212) 929-4589.

- June 5 – 10. (Tues. – Sun.)  Dudka Da Fonseca & Helio Alves.  “Samba, Jazz and the Music of Jobim”  An evening revealing, in delightfully rhythmic fashion, the creatively compelling links between jazz and the music of Brazil. With Anat Cohen, Claudio Roditi, George Mraz and Maucha Adnet.  Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

- June 7 – 10. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Charles McPherson. Alto saxophonist McPherson has been convincingly carrying the torch for bebop since he performed on the soundtrack of Clint Eastwood’s 1988 Charlie Parker film, Bird.   Jazz Standard.   (212) 576-2232.


Danilo Perez

- June 6 (Wed.)  Danilo Perez.  Panama-born pianist/composer/educator Perez’s career arc reaches from intimate musical relationships with Dizzy Gillespie to Wayne Shorter.  With a lot of stops in between, thoroughly establishing himself as one of the influential jazz voices of his generation.  Ronnie Scott’s.   020 7439 0747.

Here, There & Everywhere: Jazz at the Federal

April 23, 2012

This post is part of the Jazz Journalists Association’s international “Blogathon.”

By Don Heckman

It’s always a significant event when a new room for jazz opens. Whether it’s small or large, daily or weekly, it’s still something to acknowledge, at a time when existing music venues are struggling to survive and new arrivals are in short supply.

So I was glad to be part of an enthusiastic crowd at the Federal Bar and Restaurant in North Hollywood’s NoHo district last Wednesday, when April Williams kicked off her Jazz at the Federal. In its beginning stages, it will only be scheduled for Wednesday nights, But given the success that hard-working April has had with her Upstairs at Vitello’s jazz programs, it’s a fair expectation that she’ll do similarly well with her Federal programs. At least one hopes so.

Underscoring her desire to program first rate jazz – ranging from big bands and straight ahead jazz to funk and TK – the opening night headliner was the Bob Sheppard’s stellar quintet, with the leader on soprano and tenor saxophones, John Beasley on piano and keyboards, Tim Lefebvre on bass and Steve Hass on drums.

The program ranged from Sheppard originals to a line by Freddie Hubbard (once an employer of both Sheppard and Beasley), And the ensemble interaction during the more intricately arranged passages was first rate. But the musical focus of the evening had less to do with complex charts than with some prime, showcase playing from the two principal soloists, Sheppard and Beasley.  World class players with impressive resumes, both have enhanced the bands of leaders with far broader visibility. But each can stand on his own – as they did this night – as avid improvisational adventurers. And with the equally intrepid support of Lefebvre and Hass the musical expeditions journeyed through one fascinating musical territory after another.

All this took place in the Federal’s large, high ceilinged second floor – a space alternately recalling a Greenwich Village jazz club of the ’60s and a timeless French cellar bistro. Although the brick walls and exposed beams tended to muddy low tones somewhat, it was a problem that sound reinforcement can resolve. Otherwise, the room is an amiable audio location.

When April Williams begins to present her continuing shows in May, Jazz at the Federal will begin to establish itself as the jazz destination it has all potential for becoming. The schedule forecast includes Arturo Sandoval’s 20 piece big band, the jazz funk of Bernie Dressel’s supercharged instrumental/vocal band, Bern, and Grammy winning Gordon Goodwin’s 18 piece Big Phat Band.

Only time – and the audiences – will tell, of course, but the future of Jazz at the Federal looks promising. Let’s hope the room and its programs become well attended additions to the rich diversity of jazz in Los Angeles.

For more information about April Williams’ Jazz at the Federal, click HERE.


News: The 55th Monterey Jazz Festival Final Line Up.

April 5, 2012

By Michael Katz

The 55th Monterey Jazz Festival announced its complete schedule yesterday, adding Tony Bennett and Michael Wolff (leading his Cal Tjader tribute band) to a program already rich with stars that include Pat Metheny, Showcase Artist Jack DeJohnette, Esperanza Spalding, Trombone Shorty, Bill Frisell and Artist-in-residence Ambrose Akinmusire.

Tony Bennett

More on all that later. If you really want to know how loaded this festival is, set your watch for 9:30 p.m. Saturday night, September 22. Here’s what you can hear: Metheny, DeJohnette and Christian McBride in a trio performance on the Lyons Stage; Wolff and his Tjader band with Warren Wolf on vibes along with Pete Escovedo, John Santos, Vince Lateano and Robb Fisher at Dizzy’s Den; The Tierney Sutton Band at the Night Club; Gerald Clayton at the Coffee House. Yikes. Almost all at the same time.  Fortunately, Sutton gets a head start at 9 and Metheny plays another set with his Unity Band featuring Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez and Ben Williams on Sunday night. Still, if that cloning research gets perfected by September, you know where to find me.

Here’s a few of the other highlights. The Friday night arena show opens with Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band making its MJF debut, and we LA folk know they will get the festival off to a rollicking start. I confess to having heard little of Melody Gardot, who follows, other than sampling the bluesy jazz offerings on her website, but that’s the beauty of MJF.

Ambrose Akinmusire

There’s always some fresh faces,  including harmonica player Gregoire Maret at the Night Club and vocalist Gregory Porter, who has been creating a big ripple lately, with Night Club’s late set. DeJohnette and Akinmusire perform at Dizzy’s Den and the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra caps off the Arena Show. Finally, pianist Mulgrew Miller, who I would rate along with Michael Wolff among the finest of his (and my) generation, will lead his trio in three performances at the Coffee House.

Saturday is blues/roots/funk day in the afternoon. Robert Randolph and the Family Band open the show at the Arena and end the afternoon at the Garden Stage, always a great place to hang out. As mentioned, Trombone Shorty headlines at the Arena   and his performance, on the heels of his 2010 tour de force, will be one of the most anticipated of the festival. If you are looking for something a little quieter, two of my favorite musicians, flutist Ali Ryerson and guitarist Mimi Fox will be performing a matinee duet at the Night Club.

Saturday night, in addition to the aforementioned logjam at 9:30, begins at the Arena with guitarist Bill Frisell’s Beautiful Dreamers band performing the Festival’s commissioned piece and ends with Tony Bennett. Whether the moon will show up on cue as it did during the opening notes of “Fly Me To The Moon,” as it did in Bennett’s memorable 2005 concert has yet to be determined, but don’t bet against it.

Esperanza Spalding

Sunday afternoon features the award-winning high school and college groups, highlighted by the all-star Next Generation Band at the Arena, with alumnus Ambrose Akinmusire sitting in. The NGB was one of the highlights of the festival last year, so don’t wander in late. Esperanza Spalding, with a hot new album and lots of national exposure, anchors the afternoon show. The late afternoon Sunday shows at the Garden Stage often provide some of the most relaxed and enjoyable moments of the weekend. This year vocalist Jose James gets the 4pm slot and Kyle Eastwood and his band are sure to be crowd pleasers at 5:30.

Sunday night at the Arena begins with Pat Metheny’s band and finishes up with the MJF 55th Anniversary All Star group, featuring Dee Dee Bridgewater, trumpeter Akinmusire, Christian McBride, Benny Green, Chris Potter and drummer Lewis Nash. (They also perform Saturday night at Dizzy’s Den.) There’s plenty happening on the grounds, including vibist Stefon Harris’ Cuban themed 90 Miles Band with David Sanchez on sax and Nicholas Payton filling the trumpet chair; DeJohnette and Frisell in duets; and the annual Hammond B3 organ blowout featuring John Abercrombie, Larry Goldings and Chester Thompson. Tiger Hamasyan takes the piano spot at the Coffee House.

The 55th Annual MJF runs September 21-23. Details at:

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To read more iRoM reviews and posts by Michael Katz, click HERE.

To visit Michael Katz’s personal blog, “Katz of the Day,” click HERE.

Live Jazz: Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band at Vitello’s

February 5, 2012

By Don Heckman

The performance by Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band at Vitello’s Friday night was a hearty reminder of the decades when big bands were the stars of popular music.  Some of those bands – Count Basie, Duke Ellington – were firmly rooted in jazz.  Others – Sammy Kaye, Guy Lombardo – played music primarily for dancing.  And still others – Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller – did both.  Something for most musical tastes, in other words, during an era in which jazz qualities were so strongly present in the music – with even the Kayes and the Lombardos occasionally dipping into jitterbug-pleasing swing rhythms – that jazz and pop music were virtually synonymous.

But no more, of course, at least since the arrival of the electric guitar.  To saxophonist/pianist Goodwin’s credit, however, he continues to keep a band alive – via the attractions of his writing and the qualities of the Phat Band’s players – that remains firmly in touch with the appealing qualities of the big Swing bands.  And thoroughly receptive to its contemporary surroundings, as well.Friday’s opening set provided an impressive display of all those qualities.  Among the highlights: Goodwin’s Grammy-nominated arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue and his original composition – also Grammy-nominated – Hunting Wabbits 3 (Get Off My Lawn).

The Gershwin classic was rendered with a rhythmic panache that energized all its inherent jazz qualities, especially aided by the clarinet work of Sal Lozano and the stunning trumpet of Wayne Bergeron.  One suspects that Gershwin would have been pleased.

So, too for Wabbits, Goodwin’s third installment of this cartoon-inspired theme, a quirky, musically whimsical reminder of how much the animation world of Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Woody Woodpecker was inspired by jazz.  Here, as elsewhere throughout the set, the band’s ever-present rhythmic vitality was propelled by the dynamic drumming of Bernie Dresel.

Another Goodwin original, “Race To the Bridge,” was a kind of jazz concerto grosso featuring each of the band’s stellar sections.  The result was a display of sheer musical excitement.

The evening’s only hiccup took place during the guest artist section, which featured singer Becky Martin and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.  Martin was ebullient and assertive in a lively version of “Cheek To Cheek,” and Sandoval offered some of his familiar Dizzy Gillespie recollections in “Night in Tunisia.”  Neither piece, however – with the exception of a saxophone section harmonization of Charlie Parker’s famous high speed break in “Night in Tunisia” – did enough to sustain the spirited qualities of the Big Phat Band in action.

But that’s a small carp for an evening of memorable musical pleasures.  If anyone’s looking for a convincing template of how to bring the big bands back to the center of American music…check out Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band.   


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